Battlestar Galactica Finale: Final Thoughts

Horrible Gelatinous Blob 3/23/2009 

The prevailing sentiment circulating around the internet seems to be that the more people think about the episode, the less they like it. I find myself in agreement, but I couldn't figure out why. So let's figure out why together.

'Col. Tigh'
Col. Tigh prepares for his sideline interview with Suzy Kolber.
Character-wise, the finale was excellent. The vast majority of regular and recurring characters had their final moments and for the most part, they rang true to the nature of the character. You got to see the conclusion of the Adama/Roslin relationship, ending exactly how it needed to end. You got to see Tigh and Ellen finally together, ready to devote their lives to each other instead of the spite, vindictiveness, and jealousy that plagued their relationship. I particularly liked the resolution of Baltar and Caprica Six's story: a couple navigating an emotional minefield of betrayal, distrust, selfishness, inadequacy, and desperation and emerging beaten, bloodied, but alive. Lee...well, Lee is standing in a field talking about climbing mountains and shit, but that's Lee. They've never been completely sure what to do with Lee, so in a way it feels right to leave him out there alone spouting a bunch of bullshit that will probably never come to fruition. Likewise, Tyrol's ending wasn't really satisfying, but there wasn't much room to manuever; turning him into a Cylon was probably the worst thing that could have happened to his character. It gave an easy out to all of the interesting doubts and conflicts within the character: his position as a noncomm, his troubled marriage, his lingering feelings for Boomer. But what went right character-wise far outweighed what went wrong; even the little moments with Romo and Hoshi held a degree of emotional resonance.

Narrative-wise, the whole second half of the season has been kind of a mess, the awesomeness of the mutiny episodes notwithstanding. I know that a large part of that is intentional, to show the disarray and lack of direction that the fleet feels in the wake of the discovery of the charred, glowing cinder that is "Earth," but the execution just wasn't what it needed to be. Really, the cracks have been showing since the revelation of four of the Final Five, but the lack of long-term plotting really came back to bite the writers in the ass during these final episodes. The really frustrating thing is that it's not a failure on a conceptual level, it's failures in pacing and execution; problems BSG has suffered for its entire run.

The post-"Revelations" episodes were supposed to show the despair and utter hopelessness of the crew, but they failed miserably at that. Dee's suicide came off as shock tactics, an emotional cheap pop to jolt the audience into paying attention again. The mutiny two-parter was very good, because it fell back on Galactica's strengths: give them a simple plot, and let the characters handle the rest. Gaeta's disillusionment felt real because he had been on the ground on New Caprica, he had seen Baltar's decadence, he had perjured himself at Baltar's trial, he had lost his leg to a paranoid Cylon who apparently wasn't punished whatsoever. Gaeta had always been a follower, a true believer in ideals without understanding the foundations underneath, and it made sense that he was putty in Zarek's hands.

The whole "higher power" and "I see angels" part of the series' conclusion remind me quite a bit of the Futurama episode "Godfellas." In it, Bender tries to play god to a group of miniature lifeforms that spring up on his body. Of course, he fails miserably and everyone died. Afterwards, he has something of a postgame chat with an entity that may or may not be capital-G God, who gives him some very cogent advice: "Bender, being God isn't easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you, and if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch. Like a safecracker, or a pickpocket...When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all." Obviously, Ron Moore and the BSG crew don't share that sentiment, because the last 45 minutes or so pretty much hammers the characters and the viewers with the fact that God is hard at work making sure that the crew of Galactica is properly taken care of. There's nothing really wrong with the idea that The Man Upstairs is keeping an eye on the whole show. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did this beautifully with the Prophets, who were watchful gods inside a wormhole to the Bajorans and aliens who experienced time in a non-linear fashion to Starfleet. The key difference is that when the Prophets directly and concretely interceded in everyday affairs, a price had to be paid. In BSG, God and his "angels" move the characters around like pawns on a chessboard, but no one really has to sacrifice anything of worth. There is never any fundamental conflict between the needs of the few and the needs of the many. Having worked on DS9, you'd think Ron Moore would know better.

The reason why Head Six worked initially was entirely because of ambiguity. Was Baltar crazy? Did he have a chip in his head? Was she really a messenger from God? What the fuck was going on? When "Downloaded" revealed that Caprica Six had a Head Baltar of her own, a little ambiguity was lost, but it was a calaculated sacrifice that made sense. The connection between Baltar and Caprica Six was reinforced and highlighted as a key theme of the series. Maybe they were both crazy -- but they were crazy in the same way, which meant something. Baltar's obsession with the abused Gina, his time on the basestar, and the attempted threesome with D'Anna continued to add layers to their relationship. When Caprica Six walked away from him, it was a key moment in the evolution of their relationship, but it was by no means the end.

Then Tigh starts sleeping with Caprica Six in the brig and knocks her up. Say what? And then they decide that plotline isn't going where they want it to, so they dump it with a miscarrage. It stunk of plotting after the fact and it added absolutely nothing to any of the characters involved.

Starbuck. A beautiful, terrifying character. So much depth, so much ambiguity. Episode after episode focusing on her and her growth. "Maelstrom" is still one of my favorite episodes. But then she comes back, and it's like the revelations and growth in "Maelstrom" never happened. She finds her body, and she sits on it for a few episodes before letting Baltar in on the secret, knowing he'll reveal it to everyone in an attempt to use it for his own purposes? What? And then everyone finds out...and nothing happens. What?

Look, it's not that this is a completely implausible series of events. It's just completely implausible that the character of Starbuck would ever behave like this, pre- or post-"Maelstrom." It's bad enough that the writers can't decide how the events of "Maelstrom" changed her -- or if they changed her at all -- but now you've got her acting like a passive-aggressive teenager? It's ridiculous.

I've said from the beginning that the only three characters who absolutely, positively could not be Cylons without ruining the show on a fundamental level were Adama, Roslin, and Baltar. If Baltar is a Cyclon, why should he care about his role in the destruction of the Colonies? Why should the audience? Thankfully, Baltar wasn't a Cylon, but being a "servant of God" is almost as bad. Even if you put aside his betrayal in the miniseries, his failure as President, the New Caprica debacle, and the raw feelings left by his trial -- all these are kind of washed away as necessary in the creation of the redeemed Baltar. It's more than a little offensive, to be truthful. Why should Baltar or Caprica Six or anyone on the ship worry about morality ever again? God will make sure everything works out in the end, right? Even if he has to brutally murder an incalculable number of people to do so. More importantly, why should the viewers care? God pushes the "Win" button; series over. Hurray.

'Col. Tigh'
They evolved. They rebelled. And then they shot themselves in the mouth.
Why did Starbuck have to vanish mysteriously in the middle of Lee's soliloquy? Besides the obvious reasons, of course. Wouldn't it have been more interesting if she hadn't reappeared with the ship following that final jump? That would have added the kind of ambiguity and confusion that strengthens stories, not weakens them. When there's another, perfectly logical explanation other than A wizard God did it, it immediately becomes a million times more compelling. Laura Roslin's fate was sealed from "Crossroads Part II," when she announced her cancer had returned. What if there was a way to keep her alive on Galactica, but not anywhere else? The ending lacked any real sacrifices, any feeling of a high cost paid. Even Anders piloting the fleet into the sun loses all meaning when Starbuck vanishes.

I guess that's the main substance of my complaint: it's like the "why" no longer mattered. In their attempt to wrap everything up semi-coherently, a lot of things that should have been planned out, set up, and executed were instead waved off as "God's plan." If I want to watch a show where people point to God's fucking plan instead of exerting the effort required to think for themselves for fifteen fucking seconds, I'll turn on "Praise the fucking Lord." I don't need or want everything explained, everything spelled out. But you have to do better than this, because this was fucking lazy.

I'll stop here for your sake (assuming you've made it this far), but I could go on. Don't get me wrong, I still like BSG a lot. I think that a lot of people out there who were less than satisfied with the finale still like it a lot too. I think Battlestar Galactica is the best work of science fiction of the 21st century so far, and I think it'll have a place of its own in the canon for generations to come.

But it could have been more. It could have been better. And all these people -- people who normally don't watch sci fi, people who normally don't watch television even -- wouldn't be so vocal, so passionate, if we didn't care about the show so much.

Horrible Gelatinous Blob